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Foto Friday: Window

April 11, 2014

Old window in Lancaster, PA

Visual evidence of why old windows are important.  Seen in Lancaster, PA.  (Photo: Sabra Smith)

News Flash: Suit Corner Two-Alarm Fire

April 9, 2014

Suit Corner fire at Market & N. 3rd Streets. (Photo by Cheryl Sams O’Neill)

This morning there are reports of a two-alarm fire at the Suit Corner building on the corner of Market and N. 3rd Streets.  Photos show flames on the roof of the five-story building next to the Suit Corner store.

A recent Time Machine post noted the collapse of the graphically attention-grabbing Shirt Corner buildings kitty corner to the location of the fire.  I said that we’d at least still have the Suit Corner graphics — but that appears doubtful now.

Philly CBS news offers an updated report that says the fire started in the front window of the Suit Corner building.

Dramatic photo gallery at the NBC website.



Foto Friday: A Philadelphia View

March 28, 2014

There’s a lot of brick construction in Philadelphia, what with all the city’s connections to colonial times.  What is not appreciated often enough is the rich portfolio of architecture from other periods, from Victorian to mid-century modern, found within the city limits.

Sometimes you look left while crossing the street and come across the most remarkable layers…

architecture in Philadelphia

The Kimmel Center is just one layer in this view of Philadelphia’s architectural layers (Photo by Sabra Smith)

So Long Shirt Corner…

March 26, 2014

While I was still working in Old City, work began on rehabbing the old brick buildings — better known as Shirt Corner, for the bold red, white, and blue graphic painted on their exteriors.

Shirt Corner buildings being rehabbed

Shirt Corner buildings being rehabbed, at the corner of Market and N3RD Streets. (Photo by Sabra Smith)


Not long after, this happened.


shirt corner


The article reports that the buildings were found to be unstable while the rehab work was underway, necessitating demolition.  Though I have heard cynical old building fans express the opinion that clearing the site was the plan all along, providing the owner with a large, cleared lot and the option for new construction without working around old buildings.

Either way, we would have lost the bold bicentennial-era graphics.

But at least we still have Suit Corner across the street.



Foto Friday: Then & Now

March 23, 2014


"Hats Trimmed Free of Charge," Lit Bros. Building, Market Street, Philadelphia (Photo by Sabra Smith)

“Hats Trimmed Free of Charge,” Lit Bros. Building, Market Street, Philadelphia (Photo by Sabra Smith)


sign on building

“Hats Embroidered While You Wait,” near Penn Station, New York City (Photo by Sabra Smith)

Eloise never lived here…

February 26, 2014

Hotel Plaza (Card Cow image). Poscard text reads: “5th and Cooper Sts. Modern popular priced coffee shop restaurant, Brigantine bar, cocktail lounge, offices, barber shop. 222 rooms in a fireproof building”

The Plaza Hotel (built 1927) in Camden, New Jersey, is no more.

Heavy equipment started work on razing the building on Tuesday, February 25.  The demolition crew anticipates leveling the site in a few weeks.

A local member of the Camden County Historical Society calls the building’s demise another case of demolition by neglect, blaming absentee owners for the loss.

According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “The seven-floor brick hotel in its heyday featured a German dining room and live music in the ballroom. Its proximity to the RCA recording studio made it a common place for visiting musicians to stay.”

Hotel Plaza upper floors

Photo by Sabra Smith

doorway detail of The Plaza Hotel, Camden NJ

Photo by Sabra Smith

historic preservation, building to be demolish, demolition by neglect

Photo by Sabra Smith

Hotel Plaza architectural detail, demolition by neglect

Photo by Sabra Smith



Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14, 2014

Valentine cupid 1908Hearts?  Flowers?

Which valentine to share?

I decided on hearts AND flowers.

First, I selected one of the earliest in my grandfather’s collection.  These two cherubs apparently want you to know that time is of the essence in letting your valentine know how you feel!  “Valentine Greeting”

Shamrocks float through the air to bring you luck and forget-me-nots surround the clockface, where the hands mark the time as twelve. (On the other side, the postmark on the one penny Benjamin Franklin stamp indicates it was mailed at twelve noon on February 13, 1908 from Fairhill Station in Philadelphia.)

The card, printed in Germany, was addressed to Master Paul White, Tylersport Post Office, Pa. and sent by “Wm. Mergner”

I also couldn’t resist sharing this rose and horseshoe postcard.  The graphic quality appealed to me, and was  such a contrast to the busy floral sweetness of the Valentine Greetings cupid card.

Anthony Kobus & Sons Camden NJ 1908The text says;

Business Improvement Asso’n Carnival of Camden, 1908

Compliments of  Anthony Kobus & Sons, Boots and Shoes, Fourth and Spruce Streets, Established 1858

On the other side “Pub by Philadelphia Postal Card Co., in Germany.”  It was never mailed, so was perhaps hand-delivered when the Whites visited with the Belz family of Camden.

I was curious about Anthony Kobus & Sons and did a little digging.  The Shoe Retailer and Boots and Shoes Weekly (Vol. 55, No. 6, Boston, Wednesday, August 23, 1905) highlights all the news that’s fit to print in exciting shoe and boot doings.  In the Camden, N.J. section Kobus lands the lead story.

Anthony Kobus & Sons An Enterprising Firm of Shoe Retailers – Their Magnificent Store

Anthony Kobus & Sons, dealers in boots, shoes and rubbers, 409-11 Spruce Street, Camden, N.J., gave to each of their customers a beautiful fan during the recent hot spell.  The fans were decorated on one side with roses and heads of beautiful women lithographed in colors.  This firm have a magnificent big store, light and roomy, with separate departments for the sale of men’s and women’s shoes.  The show windows are paved with tiling, and the shoes are displayed on stands of natural wood bases.  Some have metal uprights and beveled glass tops.  The women’s and children’s window has a decorated steel ceiling and the styles are shown on pyramid stands with circular glass shelves, growing smaller toward the top.  Many electric light bulbs add brilliancy at night.

Here is what the Camden address looks like today.

409-11 Spruce Street Camden NJ

Happy Thanksgiving

November 28, 2013

I had some unexpected time off in October, while Congress debated and filibustered.  I started a project I called “Furlough Mail” which had the advantages of giving me something to do, depleting a trove of vintage postcards looking for places to go, and supporting the struggling United States Postal Service.  Oh, and friends who responded to the Facebook post also received something other than bills and window replacement coupons in their mailboxes!

I’ve seen articles in respected publications about the state of letter writing in the world today.  Is it a lost art?  Is it making a comeback?  I can tell you that one thing that hasn’t changed is the smile prompted when receiving a piece of mail with a person you know at the other end.  It creates a connection.  You hold it in your hands, perhaps more than once, and are pleased that the person remembered you and you are reminded of the past, times you once had.  Even if you print out an email, it never really accomplishes all that.

In the early part of the 20th century, my grandfather’s cousins made sure that he would have some mail of his own, a smile, a memory of their last visit.  They’d send a glimpse of the great big world to the small boy living on a country mill.  He saved them all.

I’m sharing this one from 1909 with you — Uncle Sam sitting down to tuck in to a Thanksgiving turkey.  (I guess that’s before the idea of pardoning turkeys at the White House came along….)

Uncle sam has thanksgiving

Postmark: Camden, NJ Nov 25, 1909, addressed to Master Paul White, Greenlane, Pa. R.D. No. 2. His cousin wrote: “With love and all best wishes from all to all, your loving cousin Violet

What was going on in 1909?  Taft was president.  British explorer Ernest Shackleton reached the South Pole, while later in the year Robert Peary and Matthew Henson reached the North Pole.  Workers started pouring concrete for the Panama Canal.  And to mail this postcard from Camden, New Jersey, to rural Greenlane, Pennsylvania, Cousin Violet licked a one cent stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin’s profile and placed it on the back of the card.

This year, I’m still thankful for the thing and people I outlined in this post — “I’d like to give thanks, and you should, too”

Have a spooktacular Halloween!

October 31, 2013

Have a spooktacular Halloween!

My Edgar Allan Poe-ka dot shout-out to Halloween and historic preservation

Happy Halloween! — A Tribute to Spooky Buildings

October 31, 2013

It’s an oldie, but a goodie.  If you’ve been following this blog for more than a year, this post will seem familiar.  But I think it’s good to revisit old classics from time to time, especially on special occasions.  Enjoy this building-centric excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

Happy Halloween to one and all!  Stay safe out there!

haunted fonthill

“There,” he whispered.  “There’s the only house in town worth visiting on Halloween!  There!

“Yeah!” said everyone.

For it was true.  The house was special and fine and tall and dark.  There must have been a thousand windows in its sides, all shimmering with cold stars.  It looked as if it had been cut out of black marble instead of timbers, and inside?  Who could guess how many rooms, halls, breezeways, attics.  Superior and inferior attics, some higher than others, some filled with dust and webs and ancient leaves or gold buried above the ground in the sky but lost away so high that no ladder in town could take you there.

The house beckoned with its towers, invited with its gummed-shut doors.  Pirate ships are a tonic.  Ancient forts are a boon.  But a house, a haunted house, on All Hallow’s Eve?  Eight small hearts beat up an absolute storm of glory and approbation.

“Come on.”

But they were already crowding up the path.  Until they stood at last by a crumbling wall, looking up and up and still farther up to the great tombyard on top of the old house.  For that’s what it seemed.  The high mountain peak of the mansion was littered with what looked like black bones or iron rods, and enough chimneys to choke out smoke signals from three dozen fires on sooty hearths hidden far below in the dim bowels of this monster place.  With so many chimneys, the roof seemed a vast cemetery,  each chimney signifying the burial place of some old god of fire or enchantress of steam, smoke and firefly spark.  Even as they watched a kind of bleak exhalation of soot breathed up out of some four dozen flues, darkening the sky still more and putting out some few stars.

“Boy,” said Tom Skelton.  “Pipkin sure knew what he was talking about!”

“Boy,” said all, agreeing.

They crept along the weed-infested path toward the crumpled front porch.

Tom Skelton alone itched his boney foot on the first porch step.  The others gasped at his bravery.  So, now, finally in a mob, a compact mass of sweating boys moved up on the porch amid fierce cries of planks underfoot, and shudderings of their bodies.  Each wished to pull back, swivel about, run, but found himself trapped against the boy behind, or  in front, or to the side.  So with a pseudopod thrust out here or there, the amoebic form, the large perspiration of boys leaned and made a run and a stop to the front door of the house which was as tall as a coffin and twice as thin.

They stood there for a long moment, various hands reaching out like the legs of an immense spider as if to twist that cold knob or reach for the knocker on that front door.  Meanwhile, the wooden floorings of the porch sank and wallowed beneath their weight, threatening at every shift of proportion to give way and fling them into some cockroach abyss beneath.  The planks, each tuned to an A, or an F, or a C rang out their uncanny music as heavy shoes scraped on them.  And if there had been time and it were noon, they mght have danced a cadaver’s tune or a skeleton’s rigadoon, for who can resist an ancient porch which, like a gigantic xylophone, only wants to be jumped on to make music?

But they were not thinking this.

Henry-Hank Smith (for that’s who it was) hidden inside his black witch’s costume, cried:  “Look!”

And all looked at the knocker on the front door.  Tom’s hand trembled out to touch it.

“A Marley knocker!”


“You know, Scrooge and Marley?  A Christmas Carol?” whispered Tom.

And indeed the face that made up the knocker on the door was the face of a man with a dread toothache, his jaw bandaged, his hair askew, his teeth prolapsed, his eyes wild.  Dead-as-a-doornail Marley, friend to Scrooge, inhabitor of lands beyond the grave, doomed to walk this eearth forever until…

“Knock,” said Henry-Hank.

Tom Skelton took hold of Marley’s cold and grizzly jaw, lifted it, and let it fall.

All jumped at the concussion!

The entire house shook.

Its bones bound to ground together.  Shades snap-furled up so that windows blinked wide their ghastly eyes.  Tom Skelton cat-leaped to the porch rail, staring up.  On the rooftop, weird weathercocks spun.  Two-headed roosters whirled in the sneezed wind.  A gargoyle on the western rim of the house erupted with twin snorts of rain-funnel dust.  And down the long shaking serpentine rainspouts of the house, after the sneeze had died and the weathercocks ceased spinning, vagrant whisps of autumn leaf and cobweb fell gusting out onto the dark grass.

Tom whirled to look at the faintly shuddering windows.  Moonlit reflections trembled in the glass like schools of disturbed silver minnows.  Then the front door gave a shake, a twist of its knob, a grimace of its Marley knocker and flung itself wide.  The wind made by the suddenly opened door almost knocked the boys off the porch.  They seized one another’s elbows, yelling.  Then the darkness within the house inhaled.  A wind sucked throughthe gaping hole.  It pulled at the boys, dragging them across the porch.  They had to lean back so as not to be snatched into the deep, dark hall.  They struggled, shouted, clutched the porch rails.  But then the wind ceased.

Darkness moved within darkness.

tuckdevilparade1The excerpt spooked its way here from The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury
Photo by Sabra Smith and was originally Henry Mercer’s Fonthill before it became the House o’ Haunts.